Lost on the Lonely Desert

7 Jan

Sceau was not actually saddened by his expulsion.

He had long concluded that it was useless for him to remain as a student of the School of Noesis. For it was pneumatic enlightenment he was hunting for, not anything else. The courses he was studying there came nowhere near what attracted his interest and attention.

As a native of the city of Qasr, Sceau had no experience of the Lonely Desert. He had never crossed its unmeasured dimensions of arid sand. But now there was both time and reason for turning to the empty wastes. The purpose of his living had to be present and available to him out there.

On the desert I will become more solitary than ever before, the eager young man told himself. Closer to the azure sky, I will be able to concentrate my thought beyond what is possible in crowded Qasr. Yes, escape from the colored stucco walls of the metropolis will open unknown vistas for me, he thought. That is what can liberate me. But how to enter and become acquainted with the desert? That was the immediate problem.

Sceau went to the major caravanserai on the eastern edge of the great city.

Merchant travelers in white burnouses filled the inner courtyard, along with their dromedaries, donkeys, and dickies. Was there one of them willing to transport him out there? Sceau decided to go into the tavern close by and look for a qualified transporter who could help him.

The main chamber was full of customers smoking hashish in kalian pipes.

Sitting down at a long table of caravan drivers, Sceau began conversing with those to his right and left. He asked pointed questions about making a trip across the Lonely Desert.

All of a sudden, a tall man across the table, one who had listened in silence until then, addressed the youth in a bright red urban tunic.

“Why is it that you are desirous of journeying out there? What do you think you will find?”

Sceau studied the long, dry face and the cerulean eyes opposite him.

“It is not easy to explain. I am a contemplator who must find a point where my mind and pneuma can reach out to something uniquely different.”

“You aim to become a reclusive, then. But I doubt you know how to survive on the sands. How can you be an anchoret in seclusion without specific knowledge of the waste country?”

“I have read every source in the libraries,” answered Sceau. “And I can afford to take considerable supplies with me when I leave Qasr.”

The lanky man in the burnous seemed suddenly distant and abstracted.

“The Lonely Desert, ages ago, held many anchorites and eremites seeking to find their inner spirits. But today they are almost all gone. Perhaps there has been too much failure out there. Many hermits die and no one knows of it.”

“I am aware of the dangers on the desert,” asserted Sceau, “but the chance has to be taken. My determination is strong and solid. I have to take myself out into that merciless sand.”

The two stared at each other for a time.

“My name is Gaxon,” said the caravan driver. “I am willing to assist you in the project you have in your mind to carry out.”

The line of transporting chameaux moved through grassland fields of crimson love-lies-bleeding and amaranthine. But soon it passed into the pale yellow desert of sand.

Sceau, still unsteady in the saddle, rode on the same dromedary as Gaxon, directly behind the leader of the long caravan. This arrangement allowed the two to talk whenever there was reason for either one to bring some topic up.

Outfitted in a new burnous that fit him snuggly, the young seeker asked his transporter an endless number of questions about the Lonely Desert and the means of survival on it.

Gaxon provided him candid, specific answers to everything asked.

“If one is near desiccation and dehydration,” instructed the desert guide, “just cut open a sahuaris or century plant. They contain enough water in them to save one’s life.”

Gaxon described the habits of the long-necked jirafa when one of them was spotted.

Desert leporines, conies, damans, hyraxes, and sorexes were pointed out by him for the young traveler.

At stops for rest, Sceau took note of the chameleon and the lacerta.

“In ultimate desperation,” muttered Gaxon,” one has to turn to the desert’s insects for food.”

The other passenger smiled at that. “I hope that before that moment arrives, a pneumatic revelation will have happened to me. That is my sole reason for facing the burning solar light out here. Perhaps my purpose is self-centered and the dream of an egotist, but I am driven to fulfill it from deep inside myself.”

“You are neither the first nor the last, my friend,” whispered the nomadic caravan master.

“I mean to leave your group soon with only my back pack,” announced Sceau. “Early in the morning tomorrow, right after dawn, we shall have to say our farewells.”

Gaxon looked directly into his eyes with a steely gaze and spoke to him from the heart.

“We of the desert have certain special knowledge that is passed on to each new generation. If I reveal these hidden secrets kept from city-dwellers, perhaps it can be helpful to you in your quest.”

Sceau gave him a look of unguarded surprise. “What is it?” he inquired with fiery curiosity.

“Every human is born with the pneuma, the breath of life. Most people live their life without any consciousness of it. The pneuma is like the air that we take in, rarely are we aware of anything connected with it. But there is a way of enhancing and elevating our thoughts about the pneuma, so that it becomes a vessel of enlightenment for us.”

“And what is that way?” eagerly demanded the young man.

“One must compress and contract one’s pneuma, so that it becomes denser and more solid than the thickest, hardest rock. The spirit in a person has to become an adamantine crystal. That can only be accomplished in silent meditation. One must be absolutely alone, in total solitude.”

“That sounds very difficult to accomplish,” said Sceau.”It would probably take me a considerable length of time to achieve.”

Gaxon unexpectedly grinned.

“That is what the desert traditions teach: once the ultimate point of densening is attained and no more is possible, a colossal explosion occurs. Expansion of the pneuma is instantaneous and rapid. There is a form of celestial inflation and dilation, full of enlightenment and ecstatic joy. That is what the wise culture of the desert teaches us. That is what we have always believed.”

Silence fell between the two of them. Neither had anything more to say.

“I must prepare myself for leaving the caravan,” finally said Sceau.

Soon after the dawning of the soleil, Sceau put on his pack and took leave of the leader of the caravan train. The two embraced each other with emotion.

“I intend to make use of what you told me, Gaxon,” said the young man from the city.

With those last words, he started out into the areic landscape of sky and sand.

From time to time, the wandered stopped and looked back. The slowly moving caravan was at ever greater distance from him, until it disappeared over the desert horizon.

Rationing the water in his canteens, Sceau made only a few stops for liquid his first day alone.

During the day, he ate nothing at all.

Only late in the afternoon did he stop walking, set up his canvas shelter, and finally open a package of hardtack cracker. He attempted without success to limit his overpowering appetite.

At last, under a tapestry of infinite stars, Sceau crept into his tent and fell asleep.

This pattern was to be repeated for an uncounted series of days. The same actions, the same steps, on and on. It became noticeable to the walker that his mind found it easy to take flight from the present. As if free of cares, his thoughts wandered off in an infinite number of directions. Into the past or the future, he grew uncertain of what time he was in. A sense of irreversible liberation set in. He had never before had such a feeling of happiness, of release and freedom.

At night, Sceau experienced the condensation of the pneuma described to him by Gaxon. His mental focus was on compressure of the spirit within him. What was he trying to reach and touch? The ethereal, the pneumatic, it seemed to him. What was deep inside his soul had to have a close connection to the cosmic and universal, he came to realize.

Was he going to become a mystic? he asked himself.

No, I will be soaring above and beyond that simple state and role.

Only through the most absolute loneliness can the apex, the summit on the desert be attained, Sceau told himself.

Even while asleep, his pneuma annealed and hardened, continuing the process carried forth by his waking thoughts. Sceau was able to sense his inner being contract and densen. When would this effort reach its end?

The turning point arrived abruptly, in the hour just before dawn.

It was a flash that lasted less than a second. The ecstasy of the pneuma’s dilation struck Sceau like a bolt of lightning.

Until then, he realized, the cosmos had been absorbing his being. But now, his pneuma was inflating to an infinite degree, taking in all.

By melting into the Other, he had merged it into himself. The pneumatic process was now proceeding in reverse, and would do so for the rest of his natural life.

Beyond that, his spirit was going to grow into universality, into totality.

But something else had also occurred.

Thirst and hunger had reduced his body to passivity and weakness, approaching with speed a state of death and annihilation.

He forced himself to forget and ignore the looming shadows foretelling his end as a physical creature.

A single chameau with a lone rider rode up to the tent under the noon soleil.

The towering nomad in white dismounted and stepped over to the shelter. He found the unconscious inhabitant torrefied, seared, and desiccated. Thirst had done its worst to Sceau. What remained for him? Would more could happen?

Gaxon took a canteen from his belt, opened the lips of the other, and poured in liquid. There was still breath and life, he was certain of that.

Lifting the young man’s body, he carried it to the dromedary, placing the unconscious figure in the space before the saddle. Carefully, he tied Sceau tightly to the surprised animal.

Then, himself mounted, the caravaneer directed a reverse course for the three of them.

It was midnight when the youth from the city awakened.

Gaxon sat beside the bed he rested upon. As soon as the rescued one’s eyes  opened, the other began to talk in a murmuring tone.

“Do not move or speak. I can tell that you reached illumination. Only later did the rest physically happen to you. Now that has been remedied, though full recovery will take some time.

“This is what is most important: you are now one of us. Let me explain.

“There is a brotherhood on the Lonely Desert, an informal association of the cognoscenti, those who have condensed and then dilated. Once a member, the way there  never lost. I have gone through what you did. Years ago, when I was a little older than what you now are.

“This could not be revealed to you before your own journey. As I said, we now accept you into our pneumatic brotherhood. What you experienced, all your brothers did as well. Now, I have an invitation to present. Do not speak, only nod or shake your head to give the decision you make.

“I offer you the post of caravan apprentice. Though the starting position is a lowly one of driver and keeper of a dromedary, it is possible to rise higher, even to leader, with time. The main point is a simple one: most of your time will be spent on the Lonely Desert, not in Qasr or any other settlement. You will always be with other pneumatics, except when you go into the desert on your own for solitary meditation. That is your personal matter.

“You shall be alone or not alone according to your own need and decision.”

Gaxon watched the face of Sceau with intense attention.

He grinned happily when he caught sight of a positive nod from the newest adept of the Lonely Desert.


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